Arthur Taylor has won courtroom battles and a woman's heart from behind bars but he can't convince authorities he is safe to release. Phil Taylor went to prison to meet him.

Surprisingly, during the later part of 40 years in jail, Arthur Taylor has found a whole lot of love.

Taylor, who turns 62 this year, has developed a passion for the law and fallen head over heels for a much younger Canadian woman. Love blossomed on social media, she moved to New Zealand and they got engaged early this year. Any sort of normal relationship for the couple must wait until Taylor is released which at the earliest will be late next year and at the latest when his sentence runs its course in 2022.

But then, Taylor's life has been anything but normal.

He has always had a thing about rules. As someone whose criminal history runs to nine pages and spans decades, he's broken most. He has convictions across a wide spectrum: aggravated robbery, burglary, receiving, drug offences, escaping.

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Taylor wants to expose the use of informers in high profile criminal cases. Photo / Mike Scott
Taylor wants to expose the use of informers in high profile criminal cases. Photo / Mike Scott

In recent years he has become more familiar in courts as a litigant, filing actions to help himself, to fight for the rights of prisoners and, most recently, he has done the work of the police and a public service by prosecuting a notorious jailhouse snitch in a double-murder case.

Taylor's private prosecution for perjury of Roberto Conchie Harris, a double-murderer, fraudster and sex offender who was known for two decades only as "Witness C", shed new light on the conviction in 1990 of David Tamihere for the murders of two backpackers and raised questions about the adequacy of safeguards around the evidence of snitches.

It was that case that brought the Herald face to face with Taylor on Monday, nine months after applying to the Corrections Department to interview him.

Tui Hartman is engaged to former criminal Arthur Taylor. Photo / Supplied
Tui Hartman is engaged to former criminal Arthur Taylor. Photo / Supplied

Taylor sits on a straight-backed chair in a big sparse room within Waikeria Prison, a working farm in rural Waikato. Also in the room are a guard and a department communications rep. Through the window is a grassed field. On the far side of the field prisoners sit on benches.

Burly and round-faced, he is dressed all in gray: a sweatshirt, track pants. The pants are way too big and are held in place by a clip at the back; such are the indignities of prison life. The day signifies the first time Taylor has been interviewed as a prisoner by news media in person.

There were plenty of hoops to jump through and, true to form, Taylor wasn't silent. He had a lawyer write to the boss of Corrections informing that should things go pear-shaped, "an urgent application for review and a claim for damages … under the New Zealand Bill of Rights" would result.

Hardly an idle threat. In 2015 the Court of Appeal ruled that Corrections should not have refused a request from TVNZ to interview him. That battle cost the department $86,000.

Taylor's risk classification has since lowered. He has been shifted from Paremoremo, a maximum security prison to this residential unit at Waikeria. Not that Taylor wanted to go. He laughs that he may be the only prisoner in the country who resisted being moved from maximum to minimum.

Witness C (Roberto Harris, aka Roberto Conchie Harris) at the David Tamihere case. Photo / File
Witness C (Roberto Harris, aka Roberto Conchie Harris) at the David Tamihere case. Photo / File

At Auckland Prison he had a room full of his legal papers. Here he is allowed two boxes of files in his cell at a time.

Taylor says he's always liked details. He put that to use planning crimes and escapes and things such as, he says, smuggling his sperm out of prison to get his now former wife, Carolyn, pregnant.

One of his escapes was in the company of two murderers and involved a sustained and expensive manhunt led by Mike Bush who is now Commissioner of Police.

Another ended with an element of slapstick when Taylor was captured after falling through the ceiling of a Wellington building on to a woman in a toilet cubicle. News reports at the time described the woman as "startled".

Bush once described Taylor as "a criminal with no moral or social conscience". These days Taylor is at pains to convince that he is a changed man.

"I was like a mastermind of organising criminal activities," he says. "I'd get a great deal of satisfaction from the rewards and adulation you'd get from criminals. Now I've transposed that into what I do now [where] it is directed in a pro-social and community direction."

He has argued with some of the best lawyers and in the country's top court. That would have helped his ego and his confidence. "It just shows you can do it. You learn debating skills, research skills, the analytical skills, all the skills you need to succeed in any field in life."

That part of his life began by representing himself seeking to overturn convictions or have sentences reduced. Challenging a decision to segregate him for months from other prisoners led him to advocate for prisoners' rights. Successful challenges include the legality of smoking and voting bans.

Swedish tourists Sven Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen. David Tamihere was convicted of their murder. Photo / Supplied
Swedish tourists Sven Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen. David Tamihere was convicted of their murder. Photo / Supplied

"You're probably not going to believe this but I used to have a lot of anxiety. You get in there [court] and get going and it disappears. It helped focus me on where I should be."

Taylor, who hardly seems to pause, says he wasn't always garrulous. Ministry of Social Welfare documents about his early life described him as withdrawn and non communicative. He unearthed those papers researching his earliest interaction with authorities.

Taylor is from a generation where boys considered out of control were put into a boys home. His crime then, he says, was wagging school, "not being under proper control they called it". He says it's important to note that his only previous interaction with police was handing in a Bobby's helmet he found in Masterton while on his paper round.

"People then assumed the state knew best, people didn't challenge authority. My parents didn't know what to do. Welfare officers turned up and took me to Epuni [Boys' Home in Lower Hutt]. That was 1968.

"In there I came face to face with hardened young criminals. There was no separation then, no what we 'call care and protection'. That's how your resistance to crime down breaks down."

Fifty years later, quite a few of them are in prison, says Taylor.

"I had a bit of an anti-authoritarian attitude. You build it up in these sort of places especially when you are someone like me who is passionate about fairness and reasonableness.

"I happen to be one of those people who believes you can teach prisoners a heck of a lot by treating them fairly and reasonably and hopefully that will transpose when they are released. I'm very passionate about this.

After a long negotiation, in 2015 the state paid Taylor "a reasonable sum in compensation" for putting him in Epuni. "When the state admitted wrongdoings done to me, I changed to look at other wrongs."

His campaign to expose Harris as a perjurer came about after he was shown evidence by researcher Mike Kalaugher. Kalaugher helped gather the evidence and barristers Murray Gibson and Richard Francois appeared for Taylor in court.

Taylor says that first visit by Kalaugher reminded him of a discussion he'd had himself with Harris years before in which, says Taylor, Harris admitted lying about Tamihere.

Taylor is not done on the issue. He is now targeting a second witness in the case, Witness A, the only one whose name is still suppressed of the of the three prisoners who claimed Tamihere confessed to murdering Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin, 23, and Heidi Paakkonen, 21, in the Coromandel Ranges in 1989.

Taylor has also succeeded in unmasking Witness B as the late Stephen Kapa.

"At the moment my focus as far as the Tamihere case goes is trying to track down Witness A," He's had people up in Fiji looking for him."If we can find him we will ask the Government to extradite him because we have enough evidence for a prima facie case."

Taylor has also laid a complaint with police that Harris lied on oath during the perjury case by claiming Tamihere had made incriminating admissions to him and by stating that he had retracted his original evidence because he had been threatened with violence on several occasions.

It's not a try-on, says Taylor. The police have no record of ever having charged a prosecution witness for perjury and during the Herald's investigation into the use of prison witnesses said they needed a complaint in order to investigate suspected perjury. "I thought I would hold them to their word. I'm keeping an eye on it."

As prosecutor, Taylor has written to the judge in the perjury case in support of an application by the police for the trial notes.

Taylor acknowledges he probably wouldn't be the busy litigant he has become but for prison. And therefore, probably not as famous on Facebook (1434 friends) as he is infamous to some in authority. "Who knows, I probably wouldn't have found my niche, but I know one thing, I wouldn't have been involved in the criminal justice system. None of my family have been."

Does he think he wasted his talent? Not now, he says. "I like to think I have done a hell of a lot more good than bad."

When the interviewer, with a slip of the tongue, calls him a career prisoner, Taylor laughs. "I've often in the past been described as a career criminal. I'd like to be described now as a retired career criminal or a former career criminal. I don't want to be only signified by my former criminal past."

He plans to make a living through legal work (he can't be a lawyer but can do background work) when he is released from prison and says he's not too institutionalised to cope.

"I'm very lucky that I have a very supportive family and I'm very connected with the community. It's a very important part of rehabilitation that prisoners stay connected."

Staying connected led to his engagement in February to Tui Hartman, who, as a law student, began following some of Taylor's cases. "She started sending me some messages and we just started taking quite an interest in each other - more than just friends, shall we say," Taylor told the Herald earlier this year.

"About six or seven months ago we managed to get an international number set up where I could phone Tui on her cellphone in Canada and we started talking."

She moved to New Zealand in January to see whether she could make it work.

Despite being convicted for numerous serious crimes Arthur Taylor reckons he has done more good than bad in his role as a jailhouse lawyer fighting for a fairer justice system. / Mike Scott

In March, Taylor was turned down for parole for the 19th time. The board wants him to go through "the usual reintegrative activities, such as self-care and release to work", and thought a year of this was necessary "before there is a realistic possibility of safe release".

The report noted that Taylor's most recent convictions were in 2012 (conspiracy to supply methamphetamine) and that he is serving a cumulative sentence of 17 and a half years' imprisonment which also covers convictions from 2006 and 2007 for drugs, firearms and explosives charges, escaping and kidnapping.

Criminal history, current length of sentence, assessed risk and steps Taylor has taken to address risk were taken into account in assessing parole, the report says, as well as "the relatively recent period during which he has demonstrated change".

Naturally, Taylor contested the decision. The board had put too little weight on the public interest of reintegration back into society and ignoring "my legal achievements", he claimed - and he also baulked at a comment that he had "fooled many people before".

(In 2001, after his release from serving a sentence of 10 years, Taylor told the Herald he was "going straight".)

Taylor argued that his legal work "demonstrates that I am now on the right side of the law". He provided what parole panel convenor Judge Arthur Tompkins described as "letters of support from well-known academics, including a characterisation of Taylor as 'a one-man public interest advocate'".

But Tompkins found there was no breach of the rules and so Taylor will have to wait until next year for another chance to prove that he can put prison behind him for good.

Crime and Justice

1968:

Placed in Epuni Boys' Home for the first of three stays.

1972: His first conviction was for forging entries in his savings bank deposit book.

1998: Escaped from Auckland Prison with three others, including murderer Graeme Burton. Returned to prison following a massive and expensive police hunt, but not before spending a few days at the unoccupied Coromandel bach of a multi-millionaire.

2001: Released at end of a 10 year sentence. After a life of crime he says he is now "going straight", he told the Herald.

2004: Imprisoned after conviction of drugs and firearms offences and possessing explosives.

2005: Escaped while being taken to a family group conference in Wellington to discuss custody of his child. Assisted by accomplice who pointed an air pistol at two prison officers. Captured after falling through a ceiling on to a "startled" woman in a toilet cubicle.

2006: Smuggled sperm out of prison which he claims successfully impregnated his (now former) wife, Carolyn

2010: Began series of challenges arguing a ban on smoking on prison property was unlawful. The High Court ruled in his favour three years later.

2015: High Court ruled in Taylor's favour in declaring that a statute that prohibited prisoners from voting is inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

2016: Brought a private prosecution for perjury against Witness C from the Tamihere case. Witness C was found guilty and sentenced to 8 years and 7 months in jail.